Having extricated myself from the river of grief (and now on a boat floating on it)* I’ve also noticed its smudge is everywhere. Having done a small bit of work on my relationship to grief I see it now as slightly separate from me. There are few people who are completely free of grief’s smudge, though through denial we like to think that we are. It’s only those who are working on being present that may have overcome grief’s longer-term effects.
In the hierarchical epoch of the patriarchy everyone is in a state of grief or loss
Many become fully immersed in the river of grief and never fully release it, but think that we have done so. It’s more likely that we live it’s smudge without knowing its stuck or smeared on us and we carry it with us everywhere. We’ve resigned ourselves to it, accepted it and cognitively reframed grief as a fact of life to assist in our survival.
In the hierarchical epoch of the patriarchy everyone is in a state of grief or loss throughout the life span. Only those who have achieved a modicum of mastery or a state of transcendental enlightenment may have overcome the savagery of grief’s toll.
Symptoms from the smudge of grief:
- Longing for / romanticizing the old days and angry about current life in juxtaposition to the old days. Anger becomes a way of life possibly oscillating between grief (sadness), fear and anger. Attachment to the old romanticized “past” to the point of putting the brakes on politically and a desire to return to the promise of simpler times.
- Giving up or trading in on simple happiness in the present for a perfectionist idealized past or future.
- Addicted to a substance outside ourselves (not drugs or alcohol per se) that we believe will make us happy and feel secure (more money, better job, etc.). Existential addiction is about filling a hole inside us that has grief as one of its contributing emotions.
- Rationalizing and compartmentalization of grief experiences. We often unconsciously model our expressions of grief based on our parents’ behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. The greater the intellectualization / fearfulness of “weaker” emotion states such as vulnerable emotion states – crying when sad, or frustrated then the more shame and constriction may become part of the grief process often truncating the process.
- We often have expectations that the stages of grief happen “in-order” one time and “we’re done” with this.
- I’ve seen many people in mid-life 40s to 60s (possibly younger) where grief is interrupted – a person shuts down their grief process and gives up on their inner world collapsing into their parents’ belief systems partially or whole-heartedly. It is at this time that they begin to romanticize their past and adopt old-world belief systems to cope with change.
For the people that allow for grief or any emotion such as love or joy to come and go they have loosened their attachment to past and present experiences and can face the fear of change in a less rigid fashion. However due to our ego we are all subject to attachments that grief and/or loss creates to one degree or another.
Loss is an intrinsic part of our lives.
Grief is closely allied with attachment. The very nature of being human is an identification to an idea, a person, a relationship – in short to the “stuff” of life. Attachment is the foundation of identity and memory is its tool. Attachment is at the root of unnecessary suffering. The greater the attachment to a person, wife/husband/partner, a child/son/daughter, a family, a community; a job, to an idea, to a belief and so on the more grief surrounds the loss. As humans we are all programmed to avoid feelings of loss to one degree or another based on our identity and beliefs.
Humans cannot bear loss.
Loss is an intrinsic part of our lives. Some loss we choose, such as quitting a job or relocating, this doesn’t seem so bad because we feel in control of the nature of the loss. Nevertheless, we still feel it. Deciding to move out of a relationship and although this is a loss we control it can break our heart. Other losses go deeper. The loss of a loved one through death is one that immediately comes to mind. When we experience early childhood trauma such as mental, physical, spiritual and/or sexual abuse by a parent or relatives perhaps this is the most pernicious grief of all. A parent with whom we feel love perpetuates an act of sexual abuse or worse. There is the love and there’s the violation, the confusion and the grief. This is loss and grief based on intimate attachments.
Loss and grief have become systemic in an increasingly divisive world of the hierarchical system of the patriarchy. In this kind of world there are winners and losers. The winners appear to be the super-rich and the powerful who sometimes even without knowing it oppress those without money and/or power. Many are driven to become winners through achievement and there is nothing wrong with this. It becomes insular and selfish when “others” who may be termed as losers through attributes of laziness, stupidity and are therefore cast out of the privileges of the winner-loser competition. Those deemed to be unworthy of playing the winner loser game are the invisible people, the poor, the people in prison, the homeless, women, minorities, immigrants, the list goes on; under the heel of racism, sexism, ageism, leftism for example. The class system in the USA has always been apparent to those left out. The struggling middle-classes bear the brunt of the heel of oppression by the rich by accepting less wage parity, while clinging to the myth of “work hard and you’ll succeed”. The winners are also losers because of attachment to and /or the addiction in this situation because of the need for more power, more money, more fame. There is never enough. Slavery to “more” makes the so-called winners, losers on an endless wheel of acquiring “more”.
our birthright is happiness and enlightenment
Humans cannot bear loss. Addiction is a prime example of how loss is unbearable. When therapies focus on what’s in the way of a healthy lifestyle in order to assist with healing an addiction this leads to an inevitable confrontation with loss. Looking at loss in this way is emotionally overwhelming. Healing the addictive process through a focus on obstacles fails. We can’t bear loss. This spans the gambit between addictive substances and relationships. In order to confront loss and the grief we feel from loss, we must replace the loss with something positive. When we focus on the positive replacement of the loss in present time then loss can be slowly ameliorated.
For example: I chose to breath cleaner air when I weaned my way off of smoking cigarettes. The clutching, grabbing neediness in me began to fade. It’s been 37 years since I chose to breathe cleaner air instead of inhaling smoke from cigarettes. That was easy compared to the heartbreaking work of releasing grief from the wounds of incest.
Underneath loss and grief is love. Love holds all other emotions. I also remember the words of Malidoma Somē – grief is the most common human emotion.
Attachment can only be released for a very short time.
Grief is the most common emotion because our lives appear to be about loss. As children of Western Civilization, we a trained to look outside ourselves for happiness. Even in the US The Declaration of Independence we are encouraged to push for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We don’t necessarily see that our birthright is happiness and enlightenment and that we are peeling away the illusion that prevent us from feeling it. We assume that feelings of fulfillment, peace and enlightenment are “over there” to pursue.
Corporal life is temporary, life of spirit transcends death. There is small love and big love, neither of which can be compared with the other. Small love may feel big when we have a partner with whom we are bonded and they pass away, cheat, or betray us and/or themselves. Big love will always hold a connection with one that has passed that seemingly impenetrable boundary of death. The longing may be excruciating and unbearable, staying present and reaching out to friends and professionals for help is one step in staying present. It’s not the only path.
Emotional maturity (EM) can be characterized as being able to hold contradictory emotions in awareness without a strong attachment to either emotional state and feel okay or neutral about our self. Cultivating a witness self leads to emotional maturity through suspending judgement and observing ourselves and our behaviors.
Attachment can only be released for a very short time. When we think or say “I” ego returns to claim an experience that the witness has observed. That is not a bad thing it is only the way of attachment. The witness may observe our being feeling grief and joy simultaneously. This is a paradox to be sure.
*see previous article –
in a river of grief, then on a boat